Road snapshot: Laconia, N.H.

Note: It’s Thursday, Sept. 25, and I’m hanging in the cozy confines of the Licia and Mason Beekley Community Library in New Hartford, Ct. I met a nice woman named Donna yesterday, and she suggested I come here and look for Larry. By all accounts, Larry is a wonderfully talented musician who wears dresses, miniskirts and furs. Kind of like a real-life Klinger who’s not bucking for a Section 8.
This is a great library. All public libraries are good. Here, if you’ve got a buck, you can Keurig yourself a cup of coffee. I went out to the Behemoth and found exactly 10 dimes loitering about the disgusting floor of the cab. I felt a little slovenly dropping those dirty dimes into the slot, but, well, a nickel is a nickel, a dime is a dime and a dollar is a dollar.
The helpful librarian, and helpful is the de facto adjective to describe librarians, told me Larry usually comes in to check his email just before closing, which is 8 today. He’s got a job somewhere, which keeps him busy during the day.

Linda Van Valkenburgh holds down the fort at New England Porch Rockers in Laconia, N.H., where she's taken up caning.

Linda Van Valkenburgh holds down the fort at New England Porch Rockers in Laconia, N.H., where she got inspired to take up caning.

Sept. 22, Laconia, N.H. – It’s Monday morning, but it’s not your average Monday morning in Tilton, N.H., still basking in the dizzy afterglow of the NASCAR weekend. I stopped into the Golden Arches Cafe to pick up my free coffee. The NASCAR infestation hadn’t abated yet. A long line of luxury RVs wound its way west along New Hampshire 140, bound for Tilton and the I-93 junction.
They all had to pass McDonald’s to get there, and Americans just can’t seem to pass McDonald’s without stopping. I mentioned all this to the nice young woman who took my order and poured my coffee. She rolled her eyes.
“They were here for breakfast,” she said. “And they’ll be back for lunch.”
I thanked her for the coffee, wished her a nice day and found my way back onto 3 north. Ten miles later, I was in Laconia, yet another former New England mill town. I was out of postcards, and suddenly they had become rare objects.
That’s how I met Linda Van Valkenburgh at New England Porch Rockers. She sure was friendly, and she did her best to help. She even made a couple phone calls to see if anyone of her counterparts knew where the postcards were hidden.
I hate to feel indebted, so I purchased a $4 handmade card with a lovely New England autumn scene.
Linda grew up in St. Louis and left after graduating high school to attend American University in Washington D.C.. She’s move around a bit, but she has lived in New Hampshire for nearly 30 years.
“My 50th high school reunion was this weekend,” she said. “I didn’t go. I don’t know anybody there anymore.”
I asked the difference in collective character on opposite sides of the Connecticut River.
Are Vermonters really so different from New Hampshire folk?
“Oh yes,” she said. “They used to say there are more cows in Vermont than people. Vermonters are kind of backwards. New Hampshire is in the 21st century.”
I figured maybe that’s why I couldn’t find any postcards around here. The postcard is nothing if not an anachronism. Just like me.
Linda is so sweet. After I paid for the card, she rummaged through her purse to find me a stamp, as if she owed me one. She couldn’t find one, and actually felt bad about this. I was relieved. But she is firmly in the corner of New Hampshire.
“We have four beautiful seasons here,” she said. “Wherever you go, anytime of the year, it’s beautiful. I am getting a little tired of winter, but where else can you go and have four feet of snow on the ground for three months of the year?”
I thanked Linda for being so nice and moved on to the Laconia Antiques Center, where I found a wonderful collection of vintage postcards, classified alphabetically by state. I bought two from Vermont and a few from Washington.
Outside, the sun poked through an opening in the clouds and warmed my spirits. I walked to Mill Plaza, home of the Belknap (hosiery) Mill, which the historical marker touts as the oldest (1823) unaltered textile mill in the country. An emaciated woman who looked 70 but might’ve been 40, stood by her car smoking a cigarette. I asked if she could direct me to the post office.
She thought about it for a few seconds, then smiled and pointed north along Beacon Street. “It’s right over hee-yah,” she said. I thanked her, mailed my postcards and returned to my Laconia tour.  I strolled up and down Main Street.
I don’t mean to be impertinent, but for a town in a 21st century state, Laconia looks like it got stuck in 1964.
The Second Feature store sits right next to Laconia Antiques Center, the former Bloom’s Variety Store. Antique shops and vintage clothing stores are strung out along the street.
The Colonial Theatre dominates the block, and oozes decay in all directions. A note on the marquee wishes it a happy 101st birthday, though it debuted in 1914. The forlorn relic has been closed for more than a decade. In 1915, the local newspaper touted it as “one of the handsomest play-houses in New England.”
Maybe so, but today it is more ravaged than Blanche DuBois. The trim surrounding the bay windows upstairs looks like it hasn’t been painted since 1964.
New England Porch Rockers sits on what they call Vintage Row. Other establishments on Vintage Row include Dan and Pete’s Thrift Store, aka Thrifty’s. The Goodwill is next to Thrifty’s. The Salvation Army store is across town.
The only signs Laconia is flirting with the 21st century were the U.S. Armed Forces recruiting center at 526 Main Street, the Family Dollar and a sign inside Laconia Village Bakery urging patrons to “Like us on Facebook.”
I felt bad for poking fun at Laconia, so I stopped in to pay my respects to Linda on my way back to the Behemoth. The phone was ringing off the hook at New England Porch Rockers. Everyone was looking for Jeannie, the owner.
I asked her one more time about New Hampshire, if she’d ever leave it. She lives with her husband, James, in Sanbornton, which sits about five miles north of Tilton.
She said she’s learned, after several moves and marriages, to be circumspect.
“Every place I’ve ever lived, I’ve said,’this is it. They’re going to have to carry me out in a body bag,'” she said. “So, who knows? I like New Hampshire. I’m happy here. You never can tell what tomorrow will bring.”

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